Sacrifice yourself rather than your principles, purchasers told

26 May 2011

26 May 2011 | Rebecca Ellinor in Johannesburg

Buyers in Africa may need to be prepared to lose their job rather than carry out an unethical practice.

That is the “ultimate test”, said Karen van Vuuren, Absa CPO and deputy chairperson of the CIPS board of management, who described a colleague who told his boss he would rather resign than do what his manager wanted and appoint a supplier for the wrong reasons.

Addressing delegates on the second day of the CIPS Pan-African Conference, hosted by CIPS Southern Africa, she said: “Our integrity is priceless. As soon as we compromise on that we have damaged our souls.”

She said professional expertise was essential. “I know it’s very difficult to stand up and take a position but the technical knowledge is the key to having good, strong, courageous conversations. Knowledge is power. Have the courage and stay firm.”

David Loseby, procurement director at Stonegate, said he faced a similar situation in a past role in the UK. He had a board director who wanted him to sign off a contract he was unhappy with so he refused. “That contract didn’t get signed. I left voluntarily three months later and I found out the director left unvoluntarily six months later.”

He said if you’re confident in your ability you will get another job so you need to stand firm. “I trade as a brand and I get the next job because people have trust in me as a procurement professional to do the right thing, to make the right decisions even if it is under pressure and difficult circumstances.”

Misheck Kaoma, who was also a member of the panel discussing the ethical agenda for Africa, encouraged buyers to network with one another so they have people they can call on for advice when they hit challenges. He also said delegates should develop a good relationship with their boss so they are able to ‘sell’ the reasons why something shouldn’t be done – so their boss can persuade anyone else who is, in turn, putting pressure on them.

CIPS CEO David Noble said unethical behaviour is the one area stopping Africa becoming a powerhouse and said the profession has the opportunity to be a ‘beacon of light’ that represents ethics and good practice. He pointed out that CIPS has a disciplinary committee that deals with members who are found to be breaching the code of conduct. He also said he will consider how CIPS can in future provide guidance to individuals facing these difficult situations.

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